She’s played the Black Swan—but not as crazy-like as Natalie Portman—and studied in London. She’s danced with popular French dancers and taught droves of children at the Fort Wayne Ballet.
Today, she has taught at Ivy Tech Northeast since 1996. Meshele Wyneken is an assistant professor in hospitality administration and a registered dietician. She stopped dancing at 29 to save her knees, and, she says, the food home she’s found since then has a number of similarities to her dancing start.
Tell me about your past in ballet. I became interested in ballet when I was a small child watching the Ed Sullivan show. I saw a young ballet dancer out there and decided that’s what I wanted to do. My mother enrolled me in ballet classes, and I never left. I did my first performance when I was 10.
Where have you danced? I danced predominantly with the Fort Wayne Ballet and taught for them for about 12 years. I went and studied at the Royal Academy of Dance in London, and I danced with the Milwaukee Ballet Company for about six months. But everything made me come back to Fort Wayne because that’s where my family is and where my roots are.
And being a dancer is not all bright lights and flash. It’s hard work, and it can be very painful, and it’s expensive. Shoes are very expensive. Sometimes for act one and act two, I would have two different pairs of shoes. Back when I was 29, they were close to $40 a pair, and that was back in the early ’80s.
What’s your favorite role? Either Black Swan from Swan Lake, and the other is Giselle. It’s a very classical, very old ballet. I liked being the Black Swan because I got to be evil. It was totally opposite of my character. There is no goodness in this. Giselle is because it was a love story, and unfortunately a tragic one. She dies, she kills herself. It’s a full-length ballet, and we dance constantly. It’s a tough role. I got to dance with a fairly well-known French dancer who came to town, Jean Paul Comelin. That was fun. I was 17, and he was 30, and he was gorgeous.
What happened to get you out of ballet? When I was about 25, I went to the doctor because I was having problems with my knee, and he said, “If you want to be walking when you’re 40, it’s time to think about doing something else.”
Do you have knee problems today? Oh yeah. I have arthritis in probably every single joint in my body. I have had surgery in my feet. I have a bad back, a bad hip, and a bad knee, all of which I’ve been told I will eventually have to have surgery. They need a retirement home for ex ballet dancers.
When you stopped ballet, what did you do next? I decided to become a registered dietician. Diet was something that obviously is constant with ballet dancers. Your weight is everything. Professional companies, you’re basically given a weight, and if you’re above it, you’re out. Having that all my life, I like food. I like nutrition, and the food carried on into going into culinary. I think it’s kind of interesting that I have three other friends I’ve danced with, and we all went into food. And it’s because now we can eat, and we couldn’t before. I’m still not much on sweets—it was so ingrained into me that those are “sometimes” things. But I can eat a 16-ounce steak.
Do you see any similarities between food and dance? They’re both very, very creative. They’re both ways of expressing yourself. You can express yourself through movement, but you can express yourself just as easily through food. And they’re both very physical. I’m a very hands-on person. I’m very right-brained.
Do you still dance? Not at all. I have tried to see if I can still do a pirouette. I can probably knock out one, but that’s about it. And the splits have gone away a long time ago.